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Global Baptists Grapple with Relief Model

Global Baptists face a growing debate about how to best organize for relief and development work.

This issue likely will be a focal point for hundreds of Baptists from dozens of countries who are in Vancouver, Canada, this week for the annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA).

Over the past few years, disagreements emerged over how Baptist relief and development agencies could most effectively collaborate.

In 2015, leaders of some groups created an informal network called Baptist Relief and Development Network (BReaD). Some BWA leaders feel the group competes with BWA’s relief arm, BWAid.

Groups involved with BReaD include American Baptist International Ministries, Asia Pacific Baptist Aid, BMS World Mission, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Canadian Baptist Ministries, European Baptist Aid, German Baptist Aid and Baptist Rescue24.

Helle Liht, assistant general secretary of the European Baptist Federation (EBF), told EthicsDaily.com that EBF has used “a model similar to that of BReaD since 2006” to create “a coordinated response in case of relief and development projects in our region.”

“It means that different partners inform each other about their available resources, either human or monetary, and bring these together for a common response,” she explained. “I can only see a great value of such an approach that unites different Baptist mission and aid agencies for the service of our worldwide Baptist family.

Liht added: “The vision behind BReaD is all about bringing together the resources of a global Baptist family to be effective in disaster response and in the alleviation of poverty around the world. None of us can do this alone, we are better together.”

After discussion during the Baptist World Congress last July in Durban, South Africa, BWA President Paul Msiza created a task force to mediate issues between BReaD and BWAid.

The topic created tension at a BWA Executive Committee meeting in March. BWA General Secretary Neville Callam, who has been critical of the emergence of BReaD, offered strong remarks on the subject. Those comments were reprinted in the April-June issue of BWA’s magazine, “Baptist World.”

The topic seems certain to return in Vancouver. In the written copy of his 2016 General Secretary’s Report, Callam devotes more than 20 of the 27 pages to the topic of BReaD and BWAid.

Callam views BWAid as key to BWA’s visibility, arguing “BWAid represents the intention of the Baptist community worldwide to unite in responding to human need.”

Callam claimed BWAid committee members – many of whom are BReaD leaders – “continued to exceed [the committee’s] power by making management decisions” he felt should be left to BWA staff, especially the BWAid director and himself.

He framed “the emergence of BReaD” as a way for those individuals “to acquire full decision-making rights in a relief and development agency which aims to serve the Baptist community and beyond.”

Callam criticized BReaD for not emerging “in the straightforward way” but instead to “a circuitous route” to give it “the veneer of respectability.”

He also criticized what he called “the assault BReaD unleashed on BWAid.” He noted that on one email invitation involving BWAid and BReaD, his name was listed 54th out of at least 66.

Callam particularly blasted BReaD leaders for trying “to compete with BWAid as coordinator for the Nepal Baptist response” following the devastating April 2015 earthquake in the Asian country.

After explaining his objections to the way BReaD formed, Callam argued “[a]ny reasonable person will agree that such an approach … does not reflect the values expected within a Christian organization.”

He added his complaint that “no apologies have been offered publicly” for “this disappointing approach.”

He also suggested the approach could place the “BWA’s future … at risk” and contribute “to the organization’s disintegration.”

Terry Smith, executive director of Canadian Baptist Ministries and one of the co-chairs of the BReaD Network, offered a brief comment to EthicsDaily.com ahead of the Vancouver meeting.

“The leaders of the BReaD Network have been and remain eager to meet with the Task Force established by the President of the BWA, Paul Msiza, after Durban, 2015,” Smith offered. “After the careless comments made by two of the leaders of the BWA about BReaD in Falls Church last March, Rev. Msiza asked us to refrain from any public or private communication about these tensions until the Vancouver conversations. This was wise advice and we have adhered to it.”

He added: “We are saddened that the General Secretary of the BWA either didn’t receive or chose not to follow the request of Paul Msiza, as demonstrated in his ‘Baptist World’ magazine article or in his General Secretary’s report. We’ll be happy to speak with you after Vancouver.”

Msiza briefly touched on the topic of BReaD in his written President’s Report for the Vancouver meeting. He notes that he created the task force, which continues to meet after the initial report in March and plans to present updates next year.

“I am appealing for prayers because this matter has already caused so much pain and has a potential to polarize and weaken our unity and witness,” Msiza added. “However I am positive that a solution will be reached soon.”

Callam frames his complaints in his written report as a conflict between the Global North/West and the Global South.

Reminding people he is “the first person from the Global South to serve as BWA General Secretary,” he described BReaD as “a movement of Baptist-related agencies in the Global North who collaborate in developing a mechanism whereby they can leverage their partnership to aid efficient delivery of their ministry for the benefit especially of the materially poor in the Global South.”

Callam expressed his concern that BReaD’s approach ensures “the control over [this] ministry will be vested in the hands of people in the Global West.” He also called that approach “paternalism” and “monoculturalism.”

“This development is … about some Baptists in the Global North organizing their ministry and wishing to make use of the BWA as a vehicle and instrument through which they could accomplish ends that are consistent with their ministry, which aims at what is termed ‘poverty alleviation,'” he added.

“This ‘different’ way is the way taught by politicians of a former era who were overwhelmed by convictions about the inadequacy of people from the Two-Thirds world and consumed by a sense of their indispensability. BWA members need to discern the true nation of this grand design.”

Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com. You can follow him on Twitter @BrianKaylor.